A two-frame comic strip has been doing the rounds of the Internet recently. The first frame depicts 2004. A person carrying a stack of letters is seen exclaiming with delight at an email that he has just received. The next frame depicts 2014. This person is seen in front of a computer, delighted – he has just received a letter. There are over 100 unread emails in his inbox.
The purpose of this comic was to highlight the change communication has undergone in these ten years. This, however, is not the only message that it conveys. It shows that the novelty of receiving letters – which is often cited as a reason as to why letters trump over email and other forms of online communication – was not always existent. Yes, people did wait for days, even weeks, to receive mail from their loved ones; but this romanticism is also the weak point of paper mail. Mail took (and still takes) anywhere from days to weeks to go from one place to another, and critical information, like news of deaths or births, were transferred by telegram, which is significantly slower and costlier than Internet communications. Besides, the letters that one received were often promotional messages and spam – which is the same case as with email. In fact, the advent of the Internet has brought with it varying forms of communication, for specific purposes- Email for business, Facebook/Twitter for socializing,WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and Snapchat for personal communication.
Now, there may still be detractors. Some may claim that these very forms of communication lead to miscommunication. Words can’t always express feelings, they may say. The emails sent can’t convey emotions and expressions the way letters can; the receivers don’t see the tears that the sender shed while writing out heartfelt messages and responses. Emoticons are poorly used, abbreviations like LOL and ROFL are typed out without feeling. A hastily sent email may break a business deal or a relationship. Yes, this is true – to an extent. The claims of miscommunication break down when factoring Video Call services like Microsoft’s Skype and Google’s Hangouts. Hastily sent emails are no longer an issue, because of services provided by major Cloud-based mailing services, like Gmail, which allow one to undo a sent email.
This isn’t to say that Internet communication is without its deficiencies. The quality of English – both Grammar and punctuation – has taken a turn for the worse. “Emojis”, Emoticons, and the like are misused. Abbreviations have reduced the significance of what one is trying to say. Miscommunication is definitely an issue – though it’s extent and effects are overblown by the detractors of Internet Communication; but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
The explosion of the World Wide Web has changed communication forever. We have now reached a point of no return. The only way this will change is when there is further evolution, spawning newer means of communication, like 3D holographic Video calling, or other means which are beyond our wildest dreams. Will it be for better or worse? One wonders.